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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Welcoming the Faithful

Wholesome attractions, breathtaking natural scenery and overflowing hospitality — this is what makes a city ideal for religious meetings. These meetings consist of everything from lively churchwide conventions to tranquil retreats, and they cater to a wide range of ages, so they should take place in destinations with an equally wide range of things to see and do.

To wow their attendees and elevate their meetings, religious leaders should consider planning their next events in these exceedingly friendly and affordable cities.

Branson, Missouri

While it’s home to only 12,000 residents, Branson, Missouri, gets roughly 10.5 million visitors each year. This small town’s claim to fame rests on its ability to entertain visitors of all ages, making it an ideal host city for all varieties of religious meetings.

“It’s definitely a tourism area, that’s really our only industry,” said Yvonne Long, senior sales manager at Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB. “We’re kind of this little oasis in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks.”

The city’s other draws include 40 theaters with 120 shows; amusement park rides; and 10 golf courses, which earn it a place among the top golfing destinations in the U.S. It’s also known as an extremely affordable destination.

In addition to the city’s wide selection of theaters and performing arts venues that can host meetings, the Branson Convention Center offers more than 220,000 square feet of space and is attached to a Hilton. The convention center features 14 breakout rooms and a ballroom that can seat nearly 2,500 attendees.

Branson’s lodges and resorts also offer plenty of venues for religious meetings. Chateau on the Lake, situated next to Table Rock Lake, offers nearly 44,000 square feet of event space. Big Cedar Lodge, another resort on the shores of the lake, has 20,000 square feet of event space and offers amenities like horseback riding, golf and boat rentals.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

From horseback riding on the beach to relaxing at an oceanside park, attendees can enjoy their downtime in countless ways in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to the natural beauty and tranquility of the sand and surf, this community is also home to a long list of family-friendly attractions for religious groups of any age or activity level to enjoy, such as entertainment districts and a three-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk. But perhaps one of the biggest upsides to hosting a meeting in this coastal community is that despite its range of amenities, Virginia Beach maintains a quaint feel that religious groups will enjoy.

“When you come to Virginia Beach, you have Virginia Beach,” said Scott Warren, convention sales manager at Visit Virginia Beach. “You’re a big fish in a small pond.”

The Virginia Beach Convention Center is located just blocks from the ViBe Creative District. Its contemporary design features lots of natural light, wood and water features throughout, and 150,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space. It has a 31,000-square-foot ballroom, divisible into three sections, for groups to meet in.

Religious groups will also enjoy meeting in local performing arts venues such as the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts and Zeiders American Dream Theater. Virginia Beach is home to several museums that double as distinctive venues for an event, including the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center and the Military Aviation Museum.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Named for the fog that often clings to their dense forests, the Smoky Mountains are known for their majestic beauty. At their base, the town of Pigeon Forge is alive with appealing, family-oriented attractions for religious groups to enjoy.

“We’re so fortunate to be located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountain National Park,” said Jennifer Smith, sales manager at the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “Plus we’re home to Dollywood, the No. 1 ticketed attraction in the state of Tennessee.”

Dollywood is much more than just an amusement park; it’s also a year-round destination for live entertainment and arts and crafts. In addition to Dollywood, there are endless group-friendly restaurants, museums and live performances to choose from. Some of the town’s essential activities are visiting the Titanic Museum Attraction, roaming the Island Entertainment District and attending any one of the many dinner shows.

Beyond its thrilling attractions, Pigeon Forge has a wide range of resort and hotel properties that make excellent spaces for religious groups to stay and meet. The LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge, the town’s largest meeting property, offers 200,000 square feet of space and six separate meeting spaces. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort features nine meeting rooms and has banquet space for up to 140 attendees. Music Road Resort and Convention Center has 14 meeting spaces and can seat up to 1,000 attendees theater-style. For outdoor meetings or events, religious groups can head to the Mountain Mile, an outdoor entertainment space with lawn space, live music, shops and entertainment.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

With a backdrop of clear blue skies and the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy to see why religious groups flock to Colorado Springs, Colorado. This laid-back city enjoys 300 days of sunshine per year and all-weather outdoor activities, making it an ideal destination for visitors looking to enjoy outdoor adventures and fresh air. It also has an abundance of local restaurants, cultural sites, attractions and resort-style amenities that give attendees the opportunity to unwind. In their downtime, they can take jeep tours through the Garden of the Gods, visit the Glen Eyrie Castle for a tour and high tea or ride on the Cog Railway.

“We’re a retreat-type feel,” said Kathy Reak, vice president of sales at Visit Colorado Springs. “We don’t have the tall skyscrapers of a big city, we just have wide open spaces and stunning scenery, and it just makes people feel like when they come here, they can relax.”

The Broadmoor, one of the city’s largest venues, first opened in 1918. It’s a historic resort featuring lodging, restaurants, retail, two golf courses and a spa on its sprawling campus. In total, the Broadmoor offers 315,000 square feet of meeting space, including spaces like the ornate and historic main ballroom with banquet space for up to 240 attendees, and Bartolin Hall, a 93,5000-square-foot exhibit hall. Another major meeting venue in Colorado Springs is Cheyenne Mountain, a Dolce Resort with 316 guest rooms, a golf course and 40,000 square feet of event space. Colorado Springs is also home to plenty of interesting off-site venues, such as the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, which features cutting-edge interactive exhibits celebrating the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

York County, Pennsylvania

Located outside of Baltimore in Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, York, Pennsylvania, acted as the nation’s first capital. The Articles of Confederation were drafted in York, giving today’s York County a rich history for visitors to explore. With an abundance of wine and spirit trails, artisan and factory tours, a charming downtown and idyllic
Pennsylvania scenery, York County is a hidden gem. Its affordable prices and family-friendly attractions provide tons of ways for attendees of religious meetings to relax and have fun, such as dinner and a show at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre or checking out one of York County’s many annual festivals and fairs.

Despite its small size, York is equipped to handle a variety of meeting needs thanks to the York Expo Center, an 87-acre fenced campus of event space. It includes a 74,000-square-foot arena with column-free exhibit space or seating for up to 5,500 for large events. Additional spaces are available to be rented, such as the 17,000-square-foot Old Main room, which can seat 1,000 for a banquet, or the Verandah Room and Pennsylvania Room, each of which offers 5,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

There are also several full-service meeting hotels in York County. The Wyndham Garden York features 175 guest rooms and a nearly 8,000-square-foot ballroom, while the Heritage Hills Golf Resort has 15,000 total square feet of meeting space and on-site amenities, including a golf course and spa. Off-site venues for religious meetings include the Appell Center for the Performing Arts and the York County History Center.